Samsung Series 5 Chromebook Review: Taking A Second Look At Chrome OS
Performance and Conclusion
Judging the performance of a Chromebook is difficult because of the operating system. It obviously does not run any Windows benchmarks. It can’t even run software–everything is through the browser.
This means that we’re restricted to browser benchmarks. Peacekeeper is the only one that we typically run on all systems, regardless of whether the platform is a laptop, tablet or smartphone. Let’s start with that.
The Chromebook manages to offer a substantially higher score than the tablets, though some of the gap is explained by better HTML5 compatibility, and not drastically better performance. The dual-core Intel Core laptops running Windows leave everything else in the dust.
Now let’s look at the benchmarks we usually use only on mobile devices.
Once again we see the Chromebook take the crown, defeating the tablets by a respectable margin. Atom may be old–and the N570 is not its latest incarnation–but in these browser benchmarks it allows this laptop to stay ahead of touchscreen competitors with ARM processors.
My subjective feeling is that these results are indicative of the real world. The Chrome OS sometimes feels slower than iOS when scrolling through web content, but it also seems to load pages more quickly and can handle multiple tabs more easily. In any case, the web experience is certainly more than adequate unless you visit a page that has gone crazy with Flash.
3D performance–which we have no way to objectively benchmark in Chrome OS–is terrible compared to both tablets and other modern laptops. There are 3D games on the Chrome Web Store, but I was never able to play them. They either provided me with error messages or did not load at all. Even 2D Flash games, like Kingdom Rush, were not as smooth as the apps available on other mobile platforms. Playable? Sure. But the Chromebook is the least enjoyable way to play games on the go.
Google deserves a lot of praise for the improvements made to Chrome OS over the last eight months. In August the operating system was in shambles. Web browsing felt slow, multi-touch support was jerky and functionality was poor due not only to the operating system itself but also the limited selection of web apps.
Today there are more apps available and additional functionality out of the box. If you update to the beta version of the Chrome OS to obtain the desktop, functionality takes yet another leap forward.
I used the Series 5 as my primary laptop for a weekend, just to see if I could. Surprisingly, my MacBook wasn’t missed. This plucky little Chromebook browses the web with equal confidence, has a keyboard that’s no slouch, and isn’t much worse when it comes time to playing games or video (admittedly, my MacBook is a couple years old). I don’t think anyone who’s likely to read this review would want a Chromebook as a primary system, but the Series 5 works well as a companion to a desktop computer.
Pricing is another piece of the puzzle that has found its place. Google has (mostly) made it clear that Chromebooks are not supposed to be a primary system. The pricing on Chromebooks when they were introduced betrayed this purpose, but now you can buy a Series 5 for just $300, or the aesthetically displeasing Acer for $279. This is right on par with netbooks, but most netbooks have 10.1" displays with a lower resolution.
Despite the improvements, Chrome OS still has its flaws, and you don’t have to dig deep to find them. As mentioned in our battery life section, there is still no power management–a feature that absolutely should be included in a mobile OS. Multi-touch support is limited. Parental controls? Forget about it. There’s not many privacy or security features, either.
While web browsing is quick enough, overall performance remains an issue. Browser benchmarks are an incomplete representation. Anyone wanting to play 3D games will need to look elsewhere.
Some users are inevitably going to ask why they should buy a Samsung Series 5 Chromebook when a Windows netbook isn’t more expensive. The reasons are few, but simple. Chrome OS is better for web browsing, and the Series 5 offers a display and user interface that's superior to any similarly priced netbook. If you want to do more than browse the web, or you've never had trouble with netbook-size keyboards in the past, this Chromebook won't be able to woo you.
My time with the Series 5 has given me hope for the future of Google’s PC operating system. If you need a secondary computer for use on the go, and you don’t want or can’t afford an ultraportable, this laptop is a great alternative to a Windows netbook. If you simply want a Chromebook, the Samsung Series 5 is clearly the way to go–it's superior to the Acer in every way.